The reality of Britain's reliance on torture
Torture means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle, and died
after 10 days of agony
By Craig Murray
Independent" -- -- The Government has been arguing
before the House of Lords for the right to act on intelligence
obtained by torture abroad. It wants to be able to use such material
to detain people without trial in the UK, and as evidence in the
courts. Key to its case is a statement to the Law Lords by the head
of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. In effect she argues that torture
works. It foiled the famous ricin plot.
She omits to mention that no more ricin was found than is the
naturally occurring base level in your house or mine - or indeed
that no poison of any kind was found. But let us leave that for now.
She argues, in effect, that we need to get intelligence from foreign
security services, to fight terrorism. And if they torture, so what?
Her chief falsehood is our pretence that we don't know what happens
in their dungeons. We do. And it is a dreadful story.
Manningham-Buller is so fastidious she even avoids using the word
"torture" in her evidence. Let alone the reality to which she turns
such a carefully blind eye.
Manningham Buller also fails to mention that a large number of
people have been tortured abroad to provide us with intelligence -
because we sent them there to be tortured. The CIA's "extraordinary
rendition" programme has become notorious. Under it, detainees have
been sent around the world to key torture destinations. There is
evidence of British complicity - not only do these CIA flights
regularly operate from UK airbases, but detainees have spoken of
British intelligence personnel working with their tormentors.
So the UK receives this intelligence material not occasionally, not
fortuitously, but in connection with a regular programme of torture
with which we are intimately associated. Uzbekistan is one of those
security services from whose "friendly liaison" services we obtained
information. And I will tell you what torture means.
It means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle in both vagina
and anus, and who died after ten days of agony. It means the old man
suspended by wrist shackles from the ceiling while his children were
beaten to a pulp before his eyes. It means the man whose fingernails
were pulled before his face was beaten and he was immersed to his
armpits in boiling liquid.
It means the 18-year-old whose knees and elbows were smashed, his
hand immersed in boiling liquid until the skin came away and the
flesh started to peel from the bone, before the back of his skull
was stove in.
These are all real cases from the Uzbek security services which we
viewed as friendly liaison, and from which we obtained regular
intelligence, in the Uzbek case via the CIA.
A month ago, that liaison relationship was stopped - not by us, but
by the Uzbeks. But as Manningham-Buller sets out, we continue to
maintain our position as customer to torturers in Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and many other places. The key point
is that none of the these Uzbek victims were terrorists at all.
The great majority of those who suffer torture at the hands of these
regimes are not terrorists, but political opponents. And the scale
of this torture is vast. In Uzbekistan alone thousands, not
hundreds, of innocent men, women and children suffer torture every
Across Manningham-Buller's web of friendly intelligence agencies,
the number may reach tens of thousands. Can our security really be
based on such widespread inhumanity, or is that not part of the
grievance that feeds terrorism?
These other governments know that our security services lap up
information from their torture chambers. This practical condoning
more than cancels out any weasel words on human rights which the
Foreign Office may issue. In fact, the case for the efficacy of
torture intelligence is not nearly as clear-cut as Manningham-Buller
makes out. Much dross comes out of the torture chambers. History
should tell us that under torture people would choke out an
admission that they had joined their neighbours in flying on
broomsticks with cats.
We do not receive torture intelligence from foreign liaison security
services sometimes, or by chance. We receive it on a regular basis,
through established channels. That plainly makes us complicit. It is
worth considering, in this regard, Article 4 of the UN Convention
Against Torture, which requires signatories to make complicity with
torture a criminal offence.
When I protested about these practices within the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office, I was told bluntly that Jack Straw and the head
of MI6 had considered my objections, but had come to the conclusion
that torture intelligence was important to the War on Terror, and
the practice should continue. One day, the law must bring them to
A final thought. Manningham-Buller is arguing about the efficiency
of torture in preventing a terrorist plot. If that argument is
accepted, then in logic there is no reason to rely on foreign
intermediaries. Why don't we do our own torturing at home? James VI
and I abolished torture - New Labour is making the first attempt in
English courts to justify government use of torture information. Why
stop there? Why can't the agencies work over terrorist suspects?
The Security Services want us to be able to use information from
torture. That should come as no surprise. From Sir Thomas Walsingham
on, the profession attracts people not squeamish about the smell of
seared flesh from the branding iron. That is why we have a judiciary
to protect us. I pray the Law Lords do.
The writer was British ambassador to Uzbekistan 2002-2004
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